Differentiating Types of Indicators in Technical Analysis

When facing the dilemma of choosing between leading and lagging indicators, which should traders prioritize? The answer ultimately depends on personal preference after understanding the advantages and limitations of each type.

Types of Indicators

In technical analysis, indicators are generally classified into two main groups: leading indicators and lagging indicators. Lagging indicators are typically used to identify trends, while leading indicators provide traders with signals about future price movements. Both types of indicators utilize historical price data.

The Difference Between Leading and Lagging Indicators

Lagging Indicators

Lagging indicators are tools that traders use to analyze the market by averaging past price behavior data. As the name suggests, lagging indicators “lag” or smooth out market data. This often results in traders witnessing a price move before the indicator confirms it, meaning that traders might lose some pips at the start of a trade. Many see this as necessary to confirm whether the move has gained momentum. Others view this as an opportunity cost when traders miss out on entering trades as soon as the price starts moving.

Differentiating Types of Indicators in Technical Analysis

Common lagging indicators include:

  • Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD): This indicator shows the relationship between two moving averages of a security’s price.
  • Simple Moving Average (SMA): This is the average of a selected range of prices, usually closing prices, by the number of periods in that range.
  • Stochastic Oscillator: This compares a particular closing price of a security to a range of its prices over a certain period of time.
  • Relative Strength Index (RSI): This measures the speed and change of price movements to identify overbought or oversold conditions.


Imagine a trader analyzing the EUR/USD pair. By using the 200-day SMA, the trader can identify the long-term trend. If the current price is above the 200-day SMA, the trend is considered bullish, while a price below the 200-day SMA indicates a bearish trend.

Leading Indicators

Leading indicators are technical indicators that use past price data to forecast future price movements in the market. Leading indicators allow traders to predict future price movements, enabling them to enter potential trades as prices start to move. The downside of leading indicators is that traders are predicting a move before it happens, and the market might move in the opposite direction. Thus, it’s not uncommon to see false breakouts or signs of reversals that turn out to be minor corrections.

Common leading indicators include:

  • Fibonacci Retracement: This tool uses horizontal lines to indicate areas of support or resistance at the key Fibonacci levels before the price continues in the original direction.
  • Donchian Channels: This plots the highest high and the lowest low over the last period, helping to identify potential breakout points.
  • Support and Resistance Levels: These are critical price levels on the chart where the forces of supply and demand meet.
  • Market Sentiment Indicators: Such as IG Client Sentiment and COT Reports, which provide insight into the positions of other traders and market participants.


Using Fibonacci retracement levels, a trader can identify potential reversal levels in the EUR/USD pair. If the price retraces to the 61.8% Fibonacci level and shows signs of reversal, the trader might consider entering a trade in the direction of the original trend.

Advantages and Limitations

The table below presents the advantages and limitations of each type of indicator to address the conundrum of leading vs. lagging indicators.

Indicator Type



Leading Indicators

– Provide favorable entry points for opportunistic trading

– Forecasts on price action are not guaranteed; traders must apply knowledge of these indicators in each case.


– Help traders enter trades with higher winning percentages as they identify key levels

– Often used in advanced technical analysis, such as Elliott Wave Theory, which can be challenging for new traders.

Lagging Indicators

– Provide confidence in trading by confirming price action

– Traders might sacrifice potential pips while waiting for the indicator to confirm.


– Minimize the risk of false breakouts or price not moving as analyzed

– Lagging indicators do not consider key levels, which should be noted.

Which Indicator to Use in Trading?

No indicator is perfect. Based on their characteristics, indicators can help traders identify outcomes that may contradict what actually occurs. Traders must conduct thorough analysis and determine an appropriate risk ratio.


To further illustrate this, here is an example of using leading and lagging indicators with the EUR/USD pair, where leading indicators provide a better signal. Remember, this is just an example, and lagging indicators are not useless.

The market sells off strongly when returning to the 61.8% Fibonacci level. Using the simple moving averages (21, 55, 200), it is clear that the blue line (21) did not cross the black line (55), and thus, this lagging indicator has not provided a sell signal yet.

However, with deeper analysis, traders can see that the pair remains above the 200-day moving average. The 200-day SMA is widely regarded as an excellent indicator of long-term trends and, in this case, it acts as resistance. This is a level to watch as traders hold short positions below the 61.8% Fibonacci area.

Differentiating Types of Indicators in Technical Analysis

EUR/USD Analysis Source:

Traders looking for quick signals tend to favor leading indicators but might also reduce the time frame settings on lagging indicators to make them more responsive. However, these cases require tight stop-loss settings in case the market moves in the opposite direction.

Traders seeking higher confidence will tend to favor lagging indicators. These traders often operate in longer time frames, aiming to capitalize on momentum after entering a trade late while managing risk prudently.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If leading indicators provide faster signals on market movements, do they outperform lagging indicators?

New traders often fall into this trap because they naturally want to capitalize on large moves as they appear. Traders need to reassess leading indicators; although they provide quick signals, this cannot be taken as a certainty. Deeper analyses of trends, sentiment, and momentum will confirm or invalidate trades.

What are popular moving averages?

Popular moving averages include 20, 50, 100, and 200. These can be adjusted, utilizing Fibonacci numbers like 21, 55, 100, and 200. MA 21 and MA 55 can be used in combination to catch signals, while MA 100 and MA 200 are used to evaluate market trends.

By understanding the differences, advantages, and limitations of leading and lagging indicators, traders can make more informed decisions that align with their trading strategies and risk management practices.